In the Garden:
Middle South
May, 2012
Regional Report

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Echinacea 'Double Scoop Bubble Gum', unlike the species plant,is a double-flower form.

New and Improved or Just Different?

Recently, on a visit to the Trial Gardens at the University of Georgia, I saw an eye-catching echinacea called 'Double Scoop Bubble Gum.' Several of the others in my group were especially keen on the plant's double-flower form, which features a center cushion of short petals surrounded by a fringe of long rays. As the name suggests, the color of the flower is also a bolder pink than the rosy-purple hue of the native plant.

To be honest, I was captivated too. So when I returned home, I made a point to see what I could discover about this new coneflower.

Several Internet sources described 'Double Scoop Bubble Gum' as a perennial that is drought tolerant and hardy from zones 4 to 9. Growing to 30-inches tall and 28-inches wide, it requires full sun, blooms in summer, and mixes well with other flowering plants in beds and borders. No surprises there.

I was puzzled, however, by another tidbit, which stated, "With its unusual flowers, 'Bubble Gum' will quickly become a favorite stop of butterflies, bees and wasps."

Since I haven't grown the plant myself, I don't suggest otherwise. The skeptic in me, however, notes that insects are not attracted to flowers by how they look, but for what they provide, namely pollen and nectar.

Unfortunately, studies have shown that many double-form flowers produce little or no nectar and thus receive few visits from insects. It's also known that a change in a flower's shape modifies the morphological fit for typical pollinators, so that probing is often obstructed.

No doubt, many gardeners will want to grow 'Double Scoop Bubble Gum,' and rightfully so. It is a handsome perennial with unique flowers, with or without wildlife value.

It's important to recognize, though, that many plant "improvements" result in a tradeoff. For example, everyone knows that most hybrid roses have larger and more perfectly formed flowers at the expense of fragrance, while variegated plants offer interesting foliage but are usually not as vigorous as an all-green plant.

In my garden, however, wildlife value is not something I'm willing to compromise on. I want plants that provide nectar and pollen for the insects, as well as seeds and fruits for the birds.

Could it be that I'm just old fashioned? An old fogey in the face of progress? Maybe so. I don't have a yen for gaudy flowers that are bigger, more elaborate, or bloom for months on end, and I don't care if they're available in sixteen colors or only one. I'm not interested in hydrangeas that flower all summer, or azaleas that bloom a second time in autumn.

I want plants that enhance the natural progression of the seasons, so spring looks like spring and fall feels like fall. I want the excitement of discovering a bird's nest when the leaves drop from the trees and the wonder of finding sparkling spider webs outlined with dew. In essence, I want a natural garden, not a fantasy landscape that looks like Disney World.

But I've got to admit, 'Double Scoop Bubble Gum' is mighty tempting. If I had just a bit more sun in my shady garden, I might give this new plant a try.

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